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*o8             A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
Which he touched. He was truly an instrument of Providence, but also an instrument of Nemesis.
His invasion opened the way to an understanding of ancient Egyptian life and thought. It is often the unconscious work of the soldier to prepare a way for the work of the scholar, the message of the spiritual teacher, or the bales of the trader and sometimes to destroy these, too—as history unquestionably points out.
At the commencement of Greek rule over Egypt, the old tongue began to be cast aside. The new rulers naturally tried to make Greek learning and language dominant among the educated classes. The important Government posts were given only to those Egyptians who had mastered Greek, for instance. The ancient sacred college of Heliopolis, where great numbers of priests were trained, and where the knowledge of Egyptian was maintained, was suppressed and closed. Save by a few individual priests, who oostinately and secretly clung to the traditional language, the Greek alphabet was practically adopted as the national alphabet of Egypt.
By the end of the third century after the opening of the Christian era, in the whole of Egypt no one could be found competent to explain the simple everyday meaning of a hieroglyphic inscription, let alone capable of writing a new one.
Fifteen hundred years rolled past. The art of interpreting hieroglyphs still remained as one utterly lost. And then Napoleon's storm-tossed frigate stole, under the nose of Admiral Nelson, into Alexandria.
His army soon busied itself throwing up fortifications and digging itself in generally. One of the first places where it established itself was the important strategic position of the Nile mouth, near the port of Rosetta. Here a young artillery officer, Lieutenant Boussard, made the all-important discovery which ultimately provided a key to the interpretation of hieroglyphs. For the spades of his men, who were digging the foundations of Fort St. Julien, loosened the soil around a broken skb of black basalt which he had brought to light. He at once perceived the importance of this now-famed "Rosetta stone," for it bore a trilingual inscription, a decree of thfe priests of Memphis conferring honours on Ptolemy V. There were fifty-four lines of Greek engraved upon its surface, with parallel translations into two other scripts; the hieroglyphic and the demotic.